Asheville teacher shares the stage during emotional reunion with birth mother
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) —
An Asheville teacher with a flair for drama productions reunited with his birth mother recently in a way you could never script.
"So, I wanted her to see where my home is," Johnston Elementary teacher Chris Martin said, referring to Asheville Community Theatre. He has worked there in various capacities on stage productions for years.
That's the spot he chose to meet with his mother, almost 40 years after being given up for adoption.
News 13's camera was rolling for the encounter when Martin's nerves were apparent and understandable.
Watch the video story to see photojournalist Matthew Yates' footage of the emotional moment. It's a compelling story we happened to complete in November, which is National Adoption Awareness Month.
"That's them! That's them," he said referring to his mother and half-sister Jennifer. "That's them. She's here, oh my goodness!"
Martin can't remember the last time he saw Patsy McDowell, but he'll never forget this.
"Hello, hi! How are you doing!" he said to McDowell. "Wow, in person! Hi, how are you?"
Once the excitement settled slightly, he explained more about the venue that's been so pivotal.
"So, this is ACT, Asheville Community Theatre, where I spent a lot of my life," he declared.
Chris is rarely speechless in the spotlight, but after the whirlwind search that brought them together, this was surreal.
"This is a fun place, where I've done some great things with kids and with other people on stage," he said, standing with McDowell on the stage. "It's fun. I don't know what to say! You talk, oh my God!" he told her as they embraced.
For most of his life, theater has been just the creative outlet he needed. Martin said pretending to be someone he's not is almost a way of life.
"It's always been therapeutic. I'm the happiest when I'm doing theater," he told News 13 a few days earlier in his classroom.
When you read between the lines, it's easy to see how he found his motivation.
"Drama just helped me escape," he said. "So, I think it was a great outlet for me when there were problems at home or problems in my life, it was a great way to challenge that energy."
He grew up with more questions than answers about his roots.
"This is the earliest picture of me," he pointed, going through a scrapbook he put together in middle school. "The first house we lived in."
"The puzzle piece, where is my birth mom in this?" he often asked himself.
At three years old, his adopted mother explained that that his birth mother was 19 years old and felt she couldn't give Martin what he needed to have a good life. She gave her son up for adoption when Chris was 9 weeks old.
"I've always wanted to find my birth mother," he said. "I've always wanted to see what she was like, and why she put me up for adoption."
In summer 2017, an adoption agency told Chris his mother wanted to re-connect.
"I was not able to give you what you really needed and deserved," Chris said, reading the first letter including a photo but no name.
"I've been alive 40 years, it was time for her to find me," Chris said.
Patsy felt the same way.
The next letter included family pictures and an unintentional clue that helped Chris solve the mystery. When his teaching assistant saw his sister's photo, she noticed the word "Zenia" on her dog's collar.
"So, she Googled it and found its location in Pickens, South Carolina," he said of his crafty assistant.
Turns out his sister Jennifer's a cop with a registered K-9, which led to her name, and eventually his mother's name.
Chris eventually learned from Patsy that his birth father passed away about 10 years ago.
The investigative journey led to a memorable Saturday morning on the stage at ACT.
"Y'all can come on the tour too," he said, leading his group of friends and newfound family. "This is the theater."
The theater is his happy place no matter what, but on this occasion, it was the setting for a conversation long overdue.
"God wanted me to find you because it was meant to be," Patsy told her son, explaining that it's clear she made the right decision years ago, especially when she sees that he's found a wonderful calling in local theater.
"I couldn't provide for you. I knew you'd have a better life," she said.
Where they go from here is a delicate dance.
"She wanted to learn how to ballroom dance, so I just said, 'You wanna dance?'" Chris said of the mother-son dance that melted our hearts. A sweet waltz on stage seemed like the perfect end to a new beginning.
"It felt right, it felt right in the moment," Chris said.
Then, they exited stage right, feeling much better about their roles.
"You are tall!" Patsy pointed out, realizing so much has changed in four decades.
Together they walked out of what turned out to be the perfect place for a plot twist in their lives they had waited for for so long.
"Thanks everyone for coming!" Chris said. "Oh my gosh!"